There is a misconception that once treatment is over, then everything will return to normal for the cancer patient. This is not always the case. After a cancer diagnosis, you are not going to be the same person you were, and I am not the same person.
This is when the real shock of the diagnosis hit. While undergoing treatment, you spend so much time with your oncologists, nurses, other cancer patients and attending appointments, that it becomes a routine.
Once treatment finishes, this routine stops. You are left to pick up your life and move forward. This is when the reality hits of what you have been through.
For myself, the end of treatment was only the beginning of what turned into an incredibly tough period.
About 15 months after completing treatment I was made redundant. As it was a couple of months before Christmas, I decided to take the rest of the year off and rest as I had worked throughout my treatment.
Approximately 3 weeks before Christmas I noticed that I was tired and couldn’t shake it. The tiredness started to get worse, so after Christmas I saw a naturopath who diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue. From this diagnosis, things went downhill.
The fatigue only got worse, then I started to experience digestive issues and food intolerances, sleeping was becoming difficult and I was still looking for work. To think it couldn’t get any worse I was then diagnosed with depression.
By this time, I was barely functioning, however, as much as I wanted to curl up into a ball and wish it away I couldn’t. Exhausted, crying at the drop of a hat and unemployed I hit rock bottom. What was happening to me!
This was a whole new experience for me and a very frightening one at that. Not only was it frightening, it was incredibly lonely. I have always been an independent woman who was able to look after herself and others. But at this point I really didn’t know how I was going to get through this. The only way was to seek help.
I was offered anti-depressants but I chose not to take them. I personally don’t like taking medication unless absolutely necessary but for some reason I knew that the medication would only mask the issues. Just because I chose not to take the medication, does not mean that other people shouldn’t. Whether to take medication or not varies from person to person and how severe your symptoms are. Only you can make that decision.
Seeking help was not something I was comfortable with, however, I needed to find ways to get through this. Over the years I saw a few different people until I found someone, I felt comfortable with. Not only was this a new experience, it also unearthed a lot of unresolved issues.
Over many sessions, I started to deal with all the issues bubbling to the surface. Was it painful? Yes it was, and at times I was shocked with the amount of issues surfacing. Slowly, with help I dealt with each issue as they arose. While this period was very difficult, it also allowed the ‘real’ me to appear. I started to see a change in myself and how I was thinking.
For the first time since my cancer, I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. It was a dull light at first, but over the years the light got brighter and brighter. The sessions were a way of releasing the many burdens I carried around with me, without being judged. The relief I felt afterwards was so refreshing. I was given many different tools to use to help me through. Even to this day I will talk to someone when I feel the need and still use the tools I was given.
Some of the tools I was given or encouraged to try were meditation, being more present and aware of my thoughts, using positive affirmations when negative thoughts appear, exercise, spending time outdoors and surrounding myself with supportive people. Some of the tools, like meditation, took a while to incorporate into my life as I needed to find the right style for me.
Once I was employed again, I noticed that my fatigue began to ease, my depression was getting better, sleep was improving and the digestion and food intolerances were slowly healing.
Even to this day I still have issues with my health, however, it is not something that impacts my life the way it did after my treatment.
As I look back on this time, I no longer look at it as a dreadful time. Don’t get me wrong, it was a dreadful time, however, I look back at what I endured, have overcome and the lessons I learnt. They say that everything happens for a reason. I have my ideas on why I went through this, but I don’t dwell on it. I am thankful that I got through this dark period and have come out the other side a much stronger person.
What are My Takeaways from This Experience?
* Putting yourself first is not selfish. It is essential. If you don’t look after yourself, you won’t be able to look after others. It took many years for me to feel comfortable putting my needs first, but it was essential for me heal.
* Do not be ashamed to seek help. You do what you need to do and if seeking help is part of your healing, then do it. Don’t let others dissuade you.
* Do not apologise for what you are going through. Everyone has something they are dealing with. I am not sorry for doing what I needed to do to heal.
* Crying is not a sign of weakness. For me crying is a release and very healing.
* Focus on the people who support you during your tough times. These are the people that have your best interests.
* Writing was something I did and it was incredibly healing. For me it was a way of releasing my thoughts and feelings. I could write how I really felt without any judgement and about anything. I was totally honest about how I felt and the relief was enormous. I didn’t think about what I was writing, I just wrote. Some stories I have read, others I haven’t read yet, and a few stories I have destroyed, and that is ok. One day I may choose to read them. What you choose to do with your stories after you have written them is totally up to you.
* No matter what life throws at me, I know that I will get through it. I just take it one day at a time.